Spacesuit delay puts Nasa’s 2024 Moon mission on hold
Nasa has admitted that it will not be able to send astronauts to the Moon by 2024 because the development of new spacesuits has been delayed by nearly two years.
It said the suits were a “critical component” of achieving the goal of returning humans to our nearest celestial neighbour but is facing a 20-month delay in their delivery.
Currently, for activities such as spacewalks, astronauts use suits designed 45 years ago for the Space Shuttle programme and rely on these refurbished and partially redesigned spacesuits for extravehicular activities on the International Space Station (ISS).
A new generation of spacesuit that would be more manoeuvrable and have more advanced life support systems has been in development since 2008.
In 2017, Nasa reported that despite spending nearly $200m (£145m) on their development over the previous nine-year period, it remained years away from having a flight-ready spacesuit to use on exploration missions.
Since that report came out, it has spent an additional $220m – for a total of $420m – on spacesuit development.
Despite this sizeable expenditure, Nasa blamed the delay on “funding shortfalls” in addition to the Covid-19 pandemic and technical challenges.
It now believes that the suits will not be ready until April 2025 at the earliest, by which point it anticipates that it will have spent over $1bn on their development.
It also wants to train astronauts using the newly designed suits, which will push a potential Moon mission ever further beyond this date.
Nasa previously demonstrated prototypes of the new 'Orion' suits back in 2019, including a lighter, stronger helmet that comes in more than one size, is better at reducing noise and is easier to connect to the communications system needed to talk to other crew members and mission control.
The outer cover layer is orange to make crew members easily recognisable in the ocean should they ever need to exit the Orion capsule without the assistance of recovery personnel.
The suit is also a pressure garment that includes a restraint layer to control the shape and ease of astronauts’ movements. A reengineered zipper also allows astronauts to quickly put the suit on and has increased strength.
Nasa’s planned 2024 trip to the Moon has also been held up by delays to its Space Launch System (SLS) which has gone drastically over budget.
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